PREPARING THE PHYSICS PROFESSORIATE
Karen L. Johnston
At North Carolina State University, we take both a broad view and
a long view of preparing graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) in physics
for teaching. Our multi-faceted program includes instruction and orientation
for the situational training needed to make the transition from undergraduate
student to graduate teaching assistant as smooth as possible, as well
as instruction that embraces a longer view of the graduate student
as the next generation of physics academicians.
University initiatives and programs with a general focus are designed
to appeal to students across disciplines while our departmental program
engages graduate students in student-centered reflective activities
on teaching physics. The university-sponsored orientation program provides
a glimpse into the teaching culture at North Carolina State University.
The program includes workshops for all new graduate students on topics
relevant to their new responsibilities in graduate school and optional
programs to introduce aspects of graduate student life, such as fellowship
opportunities and professional travel stipends from the Graduate Student
Association. This one-day program is conducted prior to the beginning
of classes in the fall semester and is mandatory for new graduate students
for the first time in the 1994-1995 academic year. The semester-long
departmental educational begins with a half-day program including a
welcoming reception, departmental orientation and safety program. TAs
are assigned laboratory teaching or tutoring in our Physics Tutorial
Center or Physics Courseware Instructional Laboratory. A twelve-week
program focusing on numerous aspects of physics teaching, required
of all new TAs, is conducted in the fall semester. Graduate students
meet once per week for one hour and engage in discussion, activity-based
workshops and reflective processes intended to develop their skills
as reflective teachers. While some of the activities address immediate
situational issue facing the TA in his or her assigned duties, the
underlying foundation for all discussions is effective teaching practices
in the physics classroom/laboratory. Topics such as developing questioning
skills, problem solving, learning styles, evaluations (student and
self, including videotape analysis), student preconceptions, and testing
are covered. All topics are placed in the context of the teaching of
physics and include a wide variety of activities and practices that
mirror the role of the teaching physicist.
The departmental program has evolved over the past twelve years.
Several faculty participate in teaching particular topics. Research
in physics education provides the background for most topics. Resources
such as Arons' book, "A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching" and
publications from the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher,
along with chapters from Teaching Physics for First Time Teachers (in
progress) serve as background reading in our program.
Karen L. Johnston is Professor of Physics at North Carolina State
University where her research focuses on Physics Education.